Barriers and facilitators to exclusive breastfeeding in rural Pakistan: A qualitative exploratory study
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Background: Exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) of children until six months of age is considered one of the most critical interventions in tackling childhood undernutrition. EBF rates are suboptimal in Pakistan, particularly in rural areas where child undernutrition is most prevalent. This study aimed to explore barriers to EBF in a rural context of Pakistan.
Methods: The study was conducted in the rural district Matiari of Sindh, Pakistan, during Jan-March 2020. We used a qualitative exploratory study design and conducted 36 focus group discussions (FGDs). Participants were purposively selected mothers who had not practiced EBF during their previous childbirth, their spouses and mothers-in-law, and lady health workers (LHWs) serving in the study catchment. FGDs were audio-recorded, transcribed, and translated into English from the local language and analysed using thematic content analysis.
Results: Barriers to EBF included low awareness and cultural practices of prelacteal feeds, insufficient breast milk production, undernutrition of mothers, mothers' occupation as fieldworkers, less birth spacing, low awareness about the correct technique of breastfeeding, maternal and child ailments, abnormal breasts, and influence of in-laws to start top-up feeds. Several facilitators were identified: family support, appropriate maternal diet, maternal awareness, and support in the neighborhood.
Conclusion: Barriers to EBF are multifaceted in rural areas, and interventions aiming to improve adherence to EBFshould be multipronged. Awareness-raising alone might not be sufficient, and other interventions should be designed to address the barriers of maternal malnutrition, insufficient milk production, and socio-cultural practices. In addition, safe alternatives to breast milk may be necessary if breastfeeding is truly not feasible. Lack of breast milk substitutes is particularly challenging for poor rural women who cannot afford infant formula milk.